The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts or the State Tretyakov Gallery?

June 7, 2017

Moscow boasts many museums worth visiting, so best make a choice because you won’t be able to visit them all! Before leaving on my trip to Moscow I tried to make a choice between the Pushkin State museum of Fine Arts and the State Tretyakov Gallery. Both musea have more than one building and both have several collections ranging from ancient and medieval art to contemporary art. For Classic and Ancient art you can choose between the Tretyakov gallery and the main building of the Pushkin museum. The Tretyakov gallery houses the world’s biggest collection of Russian icons and pre-revolutionary art. The Pushkin museum has a collection of Egyptian, Greek and Roman ancient art and the medieval painters from Holland and Flanders (Belgium). (Many pieces are plaster cast copies though) For lovers of ancient, medieval and religious art I recommend the Tretyakov gallery over the Pushkin state museum. There is a reason the Pushkin state museum has ‘modern art’ in its title. For art of the 19th and 20th century I prefer the Pushkin gallery of 19th and 20th century European an American art over the New Tretyakov on Krimsky Val.

Then there is also the Moscow museum of modern art. Here the focus is on temporary exhibitions of modern and contemporary art. If you happen to pass by, walk in to enjoy the statues on the inner court. Depending on the exhibition on view you can decide to visit this museum or not.

If you have enough time for two art museums, combine the Tretyakov Gallery (in the main building) with the Pushkin gallery of 19th and 20th century art. The Tretyakov is housed in an impressive red brick building that resembles a Boyar castle.

Although these museums have tourists visiting daily not many people working here speak English. I visited the Pushkin museum twice, once alone, and a second time with my husband. When I tried to get some information on the kinds of tickets available, I ended up figuring it out on my own, because no one was really able to explain it to me in English, not even the person behind the counter “Guest relations”.

If you want to visit the main building of the Pushkin museum AND the Gallery of 19th and 20th century art, you can buy a combination ticket at the main building for 550 rubbles. If you ONLY want to visit the Gallery, you cannot buy this single ticket at the main building. You have to go to the Gallery itself in the building on nr. 14, enter through the door on the right from the main door where you can buy a single ticket for the Gallery for 300 rubbles but here you cannot buy a combination ticket for both the Gallery and the main building. The combination tickets are valid for 5 days but with only a single entry per building or exhibition. There are other combination tickets that include temporary exhibitions. You can pay your ticket in cash or with credit card. The museum has English language maps and audio guides.

In the museum the works mention the name of the artist and the title in English, but all other information is only in Russian.

There are renovation works going on in the Pushkin museum, but until now they do not hinder the visitor (May 2017). The main entrance of the main building (nr. 12) is closed, and there is a temporary entrance is on the right side of the building. During my visit in May the third floor (for temporary exhibitions) and parts of the second floor of the Pushkin main building were closed off for renovations. But since I was mainly interested in the Dutch and Flemish masters this did not bother me. The map in the museum that shows where the different works are located does not reflect the real situation though. More annoying is that these changes are nowhere mentioned on their website or when buying a  ticket, so you get confronted with these changes during your visit….

The Pushkin Gallery of 19th and 20th century European and American art is a real gem though. Housed in a light open building, it offers an impressive collection of 19th and 20th century mostly European painters and sculptors, showing many iconic works of these artists. The list of artists include Ingres, Matisse, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, Sisley, Munch, Rodin, Picasso, Gaugin, Kandinsky, Leger, Chagall, .., I have forgotten some for sure. I can recommend it to anyone who loves early 20th century art. Both buildings of the Pushkin museum have a café, where you can have drinks, snacks and some light meals. The seating is limited though. The museum has a cloakroom and lockers, both free of charge. Taking photographs without flash is permitted. Bags have to be stowed before entering.

On the opposite side of the street from the Pushkin museum stands the church of Christ the Saviour. The original church has been demolished under Stalin, so the church had to be rebuilt and was finished in 1997. I had planned to walk into the church after my visit to the Pushkin museum on my first day, but was suddenly faced with the church being completely fenced of, from the front, over the side all the way up to the river where also the Patriarshy bridge was fenced off. No information whatsoever was given about why or when. Just a great number of policemen guarding the place and people standing in long lines to get in the church. No tourist website about Moscow mentioned anything about the church being fenced of. Visitors where let in in groups of about 100 at the time. I walked around and saw more than ten groups of about 100 people standing in line to get into the church. That evening my curiosity was killed by a colleague of my husband who told us that a relic (a rib) of Saint Nicolas had been lent to Russia by Italy. It would be in the church in Moscow until July, would then be moved to Saint Petersburg before its return to Italy. Saint Nicolas is one of the most popular saints in Russia and worshippers from all over the country flocked to Moscow to revere the relic. From what I could see, these worshippers probably had to queue almost a full day for a short glimpse of the relic. For tourists it was pretty impossible to visit the church.

There is still room for improvement when it comes to informing foreign tourists coming to Moscow. A good start would be to hire English peaking personnel on most tourist sights. Even behind the ticket counters of the Kremlin, very little English is spoken.

After visiting the Pushkin museum we took the metro from Kropotkinskaya station further to Sportivnaya station, and walked to the Novodevichy convent and cemetery. We bought a ticket only to find out that the Smolensk Cathedral was closed. Another disappointment upon arrival! The convent grounds are very nice for a walk, and the buildings very attractive. We compensated our disappointment with a late lunch at Golubka restaurant, just opposite the convent entrance. Here you can lounge in comfortable armchairs. Do try the Borsjt soup with meat and sour cream, a typical Russian soup made of red beets. Really very yummy. All the dishes  at Golubka are a treat and include Russian as well as International dishes. We had some time to spare so decided to walk up and visit Tolstoy’s house. It is not very big, but very informative and gives a good idea of life in those days. You pay 400 rubbles entrance, but if you want to take pictures you have to spend 120 rubbles extra. 😦 (while the entrance to the Pushkin gallery is only 300 rubbles and you can take photographs..)

The street where Tolstoy’s house stands is obviously getting popular with many hip eating and drinking spots on the other side of the street! ( one of them is a Starbucks). You are one street away from the metro stop Kultury Park, and close to Gorky Park and New Tretyakov gallery on Krimsky Val.

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